Bloggers involved in the racket known as ELT (English Language Teaching) are answering eleven questions and then nominating eleven other people to do the same. I have been reading the answers of the Secret DOS (Director of Studies). I haven’t been invited to play, but I’m nicking the questions anyway, and adding one. I won’t nominate anybody else to respond to the questions, but any commenters are invited to choose one or two, should they so wish.
1. Why did you begin blogging?
I had a ‘sent items’ box full of a decade’s worth of ELT-related moans, in-jokes and parodies, and thought they might conceivably entertain a wider audience than the original recipients. However, I soon found that I’m no longer sufficiently interested in ELT to blog about it to the exclusion of my other peeves and obsessions.
2. What keeps you teaching every year?
Back in the nineties in Athens, my job was exclusively teacher training and I loved it. I can only understand theories if I can see a practical application for them, and conducting seminars, observing hundreds of lessons and midwifing trainees’ research projects taught me much more about the theoretical background to ELT than it did the trainees themselves. For nine years at the centre where I worked I felt engaged, useful and appreciated. The cat and I lived hand-to-mouth in some pretty grotty places, but fuck it, this was the cutting-edge of the Bohemian experience, living entirely for my art while absorbing a foreign culture! Since leaving Greece, what keeps me teaching is nothing more than the need to pay the bills and keep body and soul together - and the realisation that it's too late to do anything else.
3. What is an aspect of teaching that you struggle with and have tried to improve on?
Standing up in front of a group of people and being presenter, director, producer, diagnostician and counselor is not especially easy for somebody as moody and introverted as I am, and I have to deal with frequent stage-fright and a rather annoying feeling that I’m playing a character rather than being myself. So I have to work on being myself. It smacks a bit of new-agey woo-woo, but doing this involves breathing deeply, relaxing my stomach muscles and remembering my brief training in the Alexander technique from years ago. I have to make a conscious effort to dissolve the mental barrier I unconsciously set up between myself and the students. I also usually have to rearrange the classroom furniture so that there is no teacher’s desk between us.
4. What is your ideal lesson like?
Well, first off, there must be nobody who’s under eighteen years old, and at least one specimen of male eye-candy. Once these two requirements are satisfied, we need a group of people who are present by choice, who get on well together and who have understood that they need to participate and not just sit there in respectful silence, even if that is what’s expected of them in their own culture. The students’ own input will then provide much of the material for the lesson, so that it is not just a dispiriting plod through a unit of a coursebook.
5. What would you hope your students remember you for?
My wit, charm, good looks and modesty.
6. Why did you become a teacher of ESOL?
Yeah, why the fuck did I… I drifted into it at 22, heedlessly, as people say they drift into drugs and prostitution. Anyway, by the time I was 27 and had done a year-long diploma course, ELT had provided me with a full time job and restored some of the academic self-confidence that Cambridge had knocked out of me, contrary to its supposed aim. I wonder if I might otherwise indeed have drifted into prostitution. Now, there’s a thought; I’d probably be a lot better off.
7. If you were given a paid semester off to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
If I’m honest, I’d probably just lie here faffing about online until I developed pressure sores. Thank God there’s no chance of my being given a paid semester to goof off.
8. Do you listen to music while grading? If so, what do you listen to? If not, why not?
I can’t ignore music: I’m either transported or irritated, so no, I don’t listen to anything while marking. I bung wax plugs in my ears and plough on.
9. Who has influenced your teaching?
You can pick up all sorts of tips and ideas from books and colleagues, but really the only people who’ve influenced what I do in class are the trainees I’ve observed, the students I teach, and myself. I have made a lot of mistakes in my time in the classroom and reflecting on your fuck-ups is the best way to improve.
10. If you could go anywhere in the world to teach, where would that be and why?
Here the secret DOS and I are of one mind: ‘my sitting room’. Except I wouldn’t teach: I’d write, or at least edit. No stage fright involved in turning on your lap top. Bliss.
11. What is your favorite resource (website, object, activity) in teaching?
I don’t have one. Again, I agree entirely with the Secret DOS: ‘It’s trite but my favourite resources are 1) my sense of humour and 2) the students I am working with.’ None of my students is aware of my answer to question 3.
12. Do you have a pet peeve? If so, what is it? If not, have you ever had one, and how did you get over it?
I have a whole petting zoo of peeves. Here are three, a skimming of the surface:
a) Students who chew gum,
b) students who don’t use deodorant,
c) students who hawk back snot instead of blowing their noses.
These are all culture based. Lots of students chew gum after lunch to sweeten the breath, but I do wish they’d do it quietly. Eating noisily is taken as a sign of enjoyment in some cultures, but the squelchy sound of open-mouthed gum-chewing doesn’t merely irritate me, it enrages me.
Some (sub) cultures don’t mind B.O., others have a horror of it. I belong to the latter category. I followed a colleague down a corridor the other week as he was waving his arms as though to disperse smoke and gasping ‘fuckinelle!’ He and I had just endured four hours of the acridity of male sweat and cigarette breath from a group of a nationality I shall not disclose.
In Japan and some South American countries, blowing your nose in public is considered disgusting, and the sight of a teacher blowing his nose in class is quite as shocking as if he were spitting on the carpet or tearing off farts. Now, after ten weeks of the porcine honking and snorting of a Brazilian lad with chronic catarrh, I feel that I probably have no unexpurgated karma.